AI powering tools for computers to process and understand Maltese

How the Malta Digitial Innovation Authority and the University of Malta are developing Maltese language digital resources and tools

The Maltese government launched its vision and strategy for AI less than a year ago, and by 2030, AI solutions will be a highly valued and trusted part of everyday life in Malta.

The Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) is overseeing its implementation to build trust in how AI works and enhance the general readiness to adopt AI solutions in everyday lives.

One of the key flagship projects to be launched shortly, in close cooperation with the University of Malta, is the development of Maltese language digital resources and tools.  

A 2013 report by Michael Rosner and Jan Joachimsen assessed the position of the Maltese language in digital media, particularly the extent to which it is used and, more importantly, the extent to which such use is supported by the deployment of tools and resources.

The conclusions deduced from the results of this analysis were that the level of technological support for Maltese, compared with that for other European languages, is extremely low, giving rise to the threat of “digital extinction” for the language.

In this context, “digital extinction” refers to the possibility that Maltese, while possibly maintaining its status as a national tongue with institutional support and recognition, is nevertheless virtually absent from digital media.

English has therefore become the default language of choice across most technological devices in Malta, simply because there are more resources available in English and they are easier to use.

In an effort to counteract this, the Ministry of Finance and the Malta Digital Innovation Authority will make vital investments in the development of Maltese language resources and tools.

The investment will enable computers to be able to process, understand, and generate Maltese text and speech, and also develop AI solutions that are accessible in both of Malta’s official languages – thus becoming part of everyday life.

The Maltese language resources and tools will have a direct impact on many sectors, including education and health. It will be possible to create more advanced software to process data in Maltese in a more efficient and accurate manner, and to create education tools for the Maltese language that make use of these underlying language technologies.

The initiative will be two-fold and will focus on:

Text Processing: Upgrading the current resources and tools that can be used by any industry wanting to process Maltese text, as well as to create further tools that are needed for a computer to understand and generate Maltese Text. The basic processing would include Named-Entity Recogniser (labelling Person, Organisation, Location, etc), grammatical and orthographic analysis.

Speech Processing: Efforts will include training people in the annotation of speech data so that it can be computationally processed. There is already a project in place that is exploring the best algorithms to create an Automatic Speech Recognition System, but more annotated data is needed to move from Prototype level to a more useable level. A 100-hour speech corpus annotated by people trained at an appropriate level to ensure correct annotation will be delivered.

AI, widely considered to be a general-purpose technology, is expected to change or transform work activities across every economic sector. It is therefore imperative to build AI knowledge and skills across all academic disciplines as the younger generation get ready to enter the working world.

Furthermore, under the auspices of a new MOU to be signed with the University of Malta in the very near future, MDIA and the Ministry of Finance will also be sponsoring a Scholarship Fund for prospective students to further their studies in AI.

In line with the government’s AI Strategy and Vision, the MDIA will establish the necessary conditions for AI to springboard from Malta to the world.

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